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Long before the internet became the cornerstone of modern commerce and communication, the process of planning a travel excursion was much more complicated and opaque. It was an onerous task, fraught with perils and replete with physical documents. Only the most intrepid adventure seeker could make all their own arrangements. In those times of decentralized information and paper archives, the travel agent reigned supreme.
Travel agents were the lynchpin of the travel experience. Possessed of an encyclopedic knowledge of destinations, airlines, lodging providers, and tour operators, these middlemen pulled together the disparate and disconnected threads necessary to weave a perfect vacation. Agents survived on the commissions paid by lodging providers and airlines, taking a cut of each booking that passed through their hands. In exchange, they helped travelers locate and secure all the services necessary to carry off a successful trip.
Remember, robust travel information was not readily available to the average Joe. Finding a place to stay required direct local knowledge, studying a guide book, taking a brochure, or some other kind of investigative legwork. Reviews or ratings were occasionally included in something like AAA guides, but lacked granularity and nuance. Mostly, curious customers could get an address and a phone number. Rates, room photos, and special offers were scarce if they were available at all, and further inquiries required direct calls. Without prior experience, a lone traveler was taking a significant risk on an unknown property.
That is why travel agents were so popular. Anyone who was serious about booking a vacation used one. No matter what stage of vacation planning the client was in, a travel agent could provide reputable and expert advice to realize the perfect trip, not to mention take care of the legwork necessary to make reservations and bookings. And boy did there used to be more legwork!
No matter who was making the bookings, travel used to require a lot more actual paperwork. Nobody had to suffer through more forms, ledgers, and receipts than the lodging providers.